Academic Magnet needs diversity

Academic Magnet High School students take a physics test Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. (Brad Nettles/Staff)

The Academic Magnet High School regularly appears on the list of the country’s best schools — despite its shrinking minority representation.

Students are gifted academically and taught by teachers considered excellent in a modern school building. It would be easy to sit back and enjoy the success.

But data indicate that students like those at AMHS are being shortchanged because of their schools’ lack of diversity.

Conversely, qualified minority students are possibly being shortchanged by not attending AMHS.

The question is why minority numbers have dropped drastically. In 2004-2005, 118 of the 506 students were black. This year, 16 of the 644 students are black.

Parents are concerned. Educators are concerned. The NAACP’s Charleston Branch made it a topic of its monthly meeting last Thursday.

The challenge is to reverse that trend.

Soon.

First, educators are doing research to determine what has caused the drop. Why have qualified minority students not applied? Are more students applying from private schools? Are more choosing to go to neighborhood high schools?

Charleston County School District administrators and educators are analyzing the situation, and are putting together a task force of parents, school administrators and community members to do the same.

Meanwhile, some parents at the school think instituting a lottery for qualified students would help increase diversity, and others say it’s time for a second academic magnet high school. AMHS has a waiting list of more than 100 students.

Lisa Herring, deputy superintendent of academics, said the district is trying to grow the number of minority students in middle school gifted and honors programs so that more students will be in a position to apply to AMHS — and other magnet schools throughout the district.

Very possibly all of those efforts — and more — are called for to bolster the district’s magnet schools with a more diverse student population. The district should move quickly in its research so that solutions can be implemented right away.

That’s not to say that students can’t be happy and successful in neighborhood schools. Many can.

But Academic Magnet represents a special opportunity for bright, motivated students of all races.

They and their parents should be fully aware of it and be encouraged to apply.